The Future of Learning

Nearly a year ago, amidst a new world of online learning, I made the decision to drop out of school. As my friends and peers soon made the journey back to schools across the country, I started to take Masterclass and Skillshare courses in an attempt to continue my own personal education.

I was immediately shocked by how much I was able to learn on my own, and how cheaply I could do it. The only real barrier was self-motivation. Anyone can learn pretty much anything on their own these days, if they are able to force themselves to work at it without a school or a teacher or a parent constantly looking over their shoulder.

I learned a lot, sitting down for 30 minutes a day for several months, watching professionally developed videos, taught by extremely talented teachers – often either professors or professionals in a field. I couldn’t imagine, when EVERY single teacher across the country was now having to teach in the exact same manner as these courses, through a screen, why more students were not taking gap years or dropping out all together. Why settle for a professor you might like alright in person who is now bungling their way through online coursework, when you could learn from a true professional? From some of the best in the field? That question stuck with me.

Today, I was served an ad on YouTube, from a company I’d never heard of: Outlier. The beautiful visuals immediately hooked me, and I watched through the whole thing – a very rare occurrence indeed. I even clicked to see the company’s website. An education company that looked much like Masterclass from the ad, that was aiming to bring the absolute best professors in the country right to your laptops, for a fraction of the cost of traditional university courses. AND giving you transferable college credit from the University of Pittsburgh (low and behold, it was indeed from the co-creator of Masterclass).

Scrolling through their website this morning, I was floored. This is the future of education. This is what education today should be. This is what education of the future needs to be.

I’m rooting for Outlier, and the outliers it will inspire.

Stop talking small

Yesterday, I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderfully enjoyable MasterClass.
Today, I started David Sedaris‘ MasterClass.

I hadn’t read any of Sedaris’ work until starting the first volume of his published diaries, Theft by Finding, last week.

One of the things he talks about in the first section of his class is the abolishment of small talk in his own life, specifically in the questions he asks. Instead of asking “how are you?” Or “how is your day?” He’ll ask questions like… “when was the last time you pet a monkey?” This is an actual questioned he asked a stranger – and it led to them both going to a center where they train monkeys to assist people who are paralyzed.

I thought I’d come up with some questions as well…

1. When was the last time you went to the aquarium?
2. Have you ever hit an animal on the road?
3. When was the last time you helped someone move?
4. Where do you like to shop most?
5. Do you know any blacksmiths?
6. What’s the movie you go back to again and again?
7. Have you ever gone scuba diving?
8. Did you ever finish a book in one sitting?
9. What’s something you wish you had more time for?
10. When was the last time you pet a monkey?

Use these at your leisure. Stop talking small.

Lessons from Malcolm Gladwell’s masterclass

1. The ultimate question is “what is interesting?”

– Imperfection is interesting
– Failure can be interesting

2. Interesting doesn’t mean it’s clean or that the protagonist gets what they want.

3. Incomplete stories, without that final piece that wraps it up nicely, can be the stories that stick in a readers mind the longest…

4. Give your audience meat to chew on and think about, but give them candy too – funny little moments that are easy to consume and share with others.

5. Surprise vs. Suspense

– Surprise: New, revelatory information out of the blue
– Suspense: Keeping information secret that the reader knows it is missing and needs

6. Library nonfiction shelves are arranged like a conversation – categories blend into each other and teach you how to think.

7. Stories must challenge, transport or transform.

8. Use comparison and contrast of characters in and of itself to help describe and flesh out individual characters. The contrast, and how characters respond to each other is often revealing.

Gladwell’s may be my favorite class I’ve taken so far in my learning challenge. He is incredibly engaging, and teaches through his storytelling. His course is on Masterclass. I highly recommend it along with all of his books.

Margaret Atwood’s rule of conflict

Today is the 20th day of my 30-Minutes-of-Learning-Challenge. Gosh, it just rolls off the tongue.
Yesterday, I finished a fantastic course on storytelling by Neil Gaiman on Masterclass. Today, I started a course on creative writing (again on Masterclass) by Margaret Atwood.

One thing she said in this first lesson really stuck out to me.

“A story needs a break in the pattern.”

Her way of thinking about conflict is simply to frame it as a break in the pattern for the world or character you’re focusing on. For example…

“Susan gardens every day. She loves to garden – weeding and tending to her plants for hours upon hours. One day, Susan again grabbed her gloves and shovel, pulled on her crocs like always and clomped out to the backyard to find a severed hand sitting next to her tomato bushes.”

Susan gardens every day. Today, a hand was sitting in her garden. This is a clear break in the pattern, a clear break in the routine. It immediately creates conflict for our character, and it can immediately create intrigue for the reader.

I quite like this way of thinking about conflict in story.